This is inspired by some info Graywulf gave me, about how in Canada paraphernalia is not illegal to possess, nor are the ingredients to make meth against the law to possess, only the finished product. It would seem that Canada is now the major supplier of Meth in the US... not very nice of our favorite neighbor, but international politics only confuses me. So, here is my Lyric Wheel Crossover... hope this works. I can almost guarantee that it will be more than 2000 words. It's very hard for the verbose TAE to write that short a story, at least to a deadline. The last one took me three tries (1000 word maximum) and almost a month. Longer, I can knock out in a few days/weeks, shorter takes much more time.... Go figure. SURPRISE! This is a sequel... to Heroes. Since in my little world, most of my favorite characters are related to Jim and Blair in some way, I needed some 'friends' only... heh. I wish TVLand would show a weekend marathon... I'd have the tapes going 24/48... even if I got no sleep. I can go without sleep for two days... really, I can... done it before, and for the opportunity to have all these eps in SP on tape? You betcha!
Observations: You Could
Have Said Something.
(The Long Version)
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"I'd like to speak to Jim Ellison, please." Retirement was great, but he was bored. Ralphie had gotten all gung ho about using the suit again, so he'd been checking the national crime reports and discovered that they had friends in what looked like could be the most dangerous city in the US. Knowing about the skills of the man he'd asked to talk to, he thought that with summer here and Ralphie off work, they could maybe go for a visit and see about stopping some of the insanity.
"Tell him it's Bill Maxwell. Thank you." He looked over at his partner, who was lounging on his couch, reading the printouts. It had taken him a while to get used to using a computer, and laptops still amazed him; although he'd gotten used to cell phones. Seeing Ralph frowning, he grinned. He'd never been one for easy tasks, himself, so he tended to take on the hardest cases. He knew that they couldn't stop all crime, but that wouldn't matter; they just needed to do something. If they could drive the nuts out of....
"Hey, Jim. How's it goin' keed?"
"It's going. How are you doing? Did you get re-acclimated to the land of the living?"
"Yep. Got all my back pay, too. I kind of suspect that someone at the Bureau knew what happened and were afraid that I might make a big stink, so they basically bought me off; but we'd already figured that out."
"Yeah, you're right. Sounds good, though. Blair will be interested in hearing that you're all right. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your call?" Jim was by nature a suspicious man and knowing about Bill and his partner... well, he just automatically came to the conclusion that something was up.
"Been surfing the 'net. Noticed that you have more than your share of nutcases up there. With Ralphie off for the summer, we thought we could maybe come up and give you a hand or four."
Jim hesitated. Even though they could use the help, Bill and Ralph weren't cops, not to mention non-residents of Washington State. "I don't want to seem ungrateful, but you're not a cop any more, Bill, and Ralph never was."
"Yeah. I know. But we can help you. No one even needs to know that we're involved. We'll just get you the bad guys and the physical evidence, then you can let the courts do their thing."
It was tempting. "I don't know...."
"Hey, think of it as partial payment for what you did for us," Bill said very softly.
Jim sighed. He'd liked Bill and Ralph, although it had been hard for him to accept Bill's 'little green guys', even after he met them. Then he glanced down at his desk, at the file folder open in the center and smiled. "Actually, there is something you could help us with. We seem to have a meth pipeline coming through here. NCIC says the origin is in Canada, we're sort of working with the RCMP, but their laws are far more lax than ours are, and they don't hold out much hope for resolution. Maybe you could spot some shipments for us, so we can at least stop it at this end?"
"Hey, sounds good, right up our alley, in fact. Anyone coming down from up north to liaise with us?"
Jim grinned at the 'us'. "Hey, maybe you can get reinstated with the Bureau for this? The local contingent is, well, let's just say that even the rest of the Bureau doesn't much like them."
Bill laughed. Yeah, he could see if he could consult... he was, after all, more than eligible. He'd make some calls.... "I'll see what I can do. Who do you have up there?"
"Well, the ones they sent us are originally from somewhere back east. Ford and White. Couple of real losers."
Bill nodded, understanding. He'd had similar problems with local law enforcement. He knew that both local and federal law enforcement had both good and bad members. He'd always strived to avoid his agency's reputation of pompous, prideful uselessness. He was jotting down some ideas of who to call to get in as a consultant. "I'll see what I can do. What about Canada? They send anyone down?"
"They're supposed to have a man here any day, now. Some specialist in dealing with the US. That's going to be scary."
Bill laughed. International cop operations were never dull. He was getting all antsy in anticipation, hardly able to sit still.
Ralph looked up from his reading and saw his partner. He smiled. He'd missed the man's excitement at the idea of getting back in harness. Bill reminded him of a good hunting dog one of his friends had owned. The way the dog would shiver in anticipation when the gun was brought out. Bill had that same, barely restrained energy and he'd missed that, not to mention his friend.
"Tell them that tomorrow is my last day, so we can be up there this weekend. Pam's taking the kids to visit her folks, so that won't be a problem."
Bill nodded, "You heard that, Jim?"
"Yeah. That's probably a good idea. They won't miss him?"
"Probably. But he'll run up big phone bills to keep in touch," Bill laughed.
"Okay. We'll see you some time this weekend, then. I'd invite you to stay here, but there's just no room."
"Not a problem. We'll stay at the Best Western, it's not too expensive, and the rooms are good."
"Okay, there's one not far from here. You going to fly or drive up?"
"Commercial air, thank you," Bill laughed again. "We'll get a rental car there."
"Sounds good. I'll let Sandburg know. I may have to let my captain in on it, as well."
"Uh, will that be a problem?"
"Nope. He knows all about me, but I didn't tell him everything about our little adventure. Figured he didn't need the added stress. However, if you're going to come up here and work with us, I'd like to have him in on as much as is practicable."
"Hold on a sec." Bill turned to his partner. "Ralphie, Jim wants to know if he can tell his captain, says he can be trusted."
Ralph looked up, thought a moment, and then nodded. "I guess so. If he's sure?"
Bill grinned and lifted the phone again. "Okay with us, as long as you're sure he can be trusted."
"I trust him with my life, and just as important, my partner's life," Jim said
"That's good enough for me. See you in a day or so."
"Just show up on the doorstep, or at the PD. You have my numbers."
Jim hung up, thinking to himself that he had some of the oddest friends, and smiling in anticipation. Simon was going to have a fit. Hearing a commotion out in the hall, he looked up in time to spot his partner, laughing and chattering with... more friends. His smile widened into a grin as he stood.
"Hey, Jim," Blair called out when he spotted him, "Look what the wind blew in!"
Jim looked at the man in the red serge tunic, and shook his head. "You're the 'special liaison'?"
"I'm afraid so," Benton Fraser sighed and extended his hand. Jim grasped it warmly and chuckled at the put-upon expression on the Mountie's face.
"So, what about your entourage? I know those two aren't Canadian."
Fraser dropped his head slightly as his right hand came up to rub the back of his thumb over his eyebrow, "Actually, one of them is. I don't know if you recall Constable Turnbull?"
Jim looked past his friends and spotted the fourth visitor. Oh, yeah. He remembered Turnbull. Smiling what he thought was his most reassuring smile; Jim approached the taller man and extended his hand. "Constable; it's good to see you, again."
Turnbull blushed and bobbed his head, accepting the handshake, "Thank you kindly, Detective Ellison. It's a pleasure to be here, sir."
"Relax, it's Jim."
Turnbull looked uncomfortable, "Renfield." Jim didn't react.
"Renfield. Welcome to Cascade, gentlemen, or in the case of the rest of you, back to Cascade."
"Hey, it's a good excuse for a vacation. Temps are supposed to be in the nineties this week, with eighty or ninety percent humidity," the blond American grinned.
"And, if I want those temps or humidity, I'll go to Florida, thanks." The nearly bald American added.
Blair laughed, bouncing in glee. "Isn't this great, Jim? That our liaisons from Canada should be these guys?"
"Actually, only Turnbull and I are the liaisons from Canada, Ray and Ray are simply along to provide information, based on Chicago's own experiences with the problem.
Vecchio nodded. "Yeah. We're getting a lot of crap in from the waterfront, but we can't seem to stop it. We're hoping that the same people are involved here, and if we can catch them, then we can track them back to Chicago and get the rest of them, or at least get some info from the locals about it, give us a better place to look."
"So, have you met the Feds, yet?"
"Unfortunately, Ford and White are their names."
"Oh, dear. Agent Ford?" Fraser asked, frowning and glancing at his American partners, who looked just as dismayed.
"You know them?"
"We know one named Ford," Vecchio replied, sighing. "Dumber than dirt."
"We noticed," Blair said.
"Gentlemen?" The stern voice of their captain made Blair flinch as Jim turned to look at the tall, imposing man.
"Sorry, Simon. You remember Constable Fraser and Detectives Vecchio and Kowalski? The fourth member of the contingent is Constable Renfield Turnbull." Looking at the youngest member of the visitors, he added, "This is Captain Simon Banks, head of Major Crime."
"Gentlemen, it's a pleasure. "Shall we take this to my office?"
Simon had briefed them on what they had discovered thus far. They had exchanged what information each group had, discovering an alarming similarity in the two cities' experiences. The disadvantage of the Canadians was disturbing.
"Unfortunately, we can raid a meth lab, and unless we discover the finished product in sufficient quantity, the worst the culprits can expect is a fine. Unlike the US, it is not illegal to obtain or possess the ingredients for making methamphetamine, even in great quantities. It's very difficult, I'm afraid." Fraser was embarrassed at his country's inability to stop the drug-making that had become rampant.
"It does make our jobs harder," Simon agreed. "Unfortunately, with the border the way it is, it's relatively easy to bring drugs in from up north. Most vehicles aren't even stopped and checked for contraband, by either side. It has become imperative that we stop the pipelines. Hopefully, working together, we'll be able to accomplish something." There were determined nods of agreement from all of them.
The Feds didn't even bother to knock, simply opening the door and walking in. They didn't bother to acknowledge the local cops, focusing their attention on the newcomers. One of them, Agent Ford, sneered as he recognized the pair from Chicago.
"Hell, they couldn't send anyone better than these guys?"
"Good to see you, too, Ford," Vecchio smirked.
Grunting in annoyance, Ford turned to the captain to complain. "Look these guys are worthless. We'll do much better on our own."
Jim and Blair stiffened, but Simon had it covered. "Having worked with three of these gentlemen on more than one previous instance, I have to disagree with you. If anything, I feel I can trust them far more than I can you and your partner. At least with them, I know what I'm getting. Honest, dedicated officers of the law. You two? I don't know either of you, and you have yet to demonstrate any usefulness to me. As far as I've observed, all you've done is pontificate and preen for the cameras... only we aren't the media and your posing and posturing are wasted on us 'yokels'." His smile could only be called predatory. "In fact, I've been given to understand that you have interacted with Constable Fraser and Detectives Kowalski and Vecchio on previous occasions? Much to your detriment, I might add. I'm sure that your presence here has nothing to do with your inability to close your cases in Chicago, but I'm afraid that I would have to go with their recommendations over your own, as a known quantity over an unknown one."
Ford nearly choked, but his partner, Agent White nodded his agreement. "I can understand your feelings, Captain. I wasn't working with Agent Ford in Chicago, and I have only recently come from DC specifically for this assignment. I hope that we can change your mind as to our usefulness." White wanted to kick his partner. It seemed that the locals knew more about his partner than he did, and that was intolerable. He and Ford were going to have a nice, long talk, just as soon as they got out of here.
The ringing of a cell phone startled them. Agent White frowned and pulled the offending instrument from his pocket. "White." He listened and first paled, then flushed. "What? Who the hell is...? But... Yes. I see. Very well. No, no problem." He disconnected and snapped the phone closed, and then shoved it in his pocket. "It would appear that you will be getting a new liaison from the Bureau." He was being demoted from lead agent to subordinate, and he didn't like the idea.
"Oh?" Simon asked, taking out a cigar and rolling it between his fingers. He was frowning. He didn't like Feds in general, and these two weren't very high on even that list.
White glared at Ford, who just looked befuddled. "Yes, it seems that some old retiree has volunteered to oversee this operation. For some unknowable reason, he's been reinstated just for this case."
"And who would this person be?"
Blair was frowning, but saw that his partner was trying to hide a grin. Looking pointedly at him, Jim winked and made a small hand gesture. Blair scowled for a moment, and then realization dawned.
"Bill Maxwell? He's coming?" Blair blurted out in pleased surprise. Jim nodded.
"You know this guy?" Agent White asked, startled.
"Uh, yeah. Met him back in early spring. I take it he's recovered?" Blair directed that last to his partner.
"Yeah. He said he was doing fine. He'll be up some time this weekend."
"Hey, cool," Blair enthused.
"Would you mind letting the rest of us in on what's going on, Sandburg?" Simon asked, mauling his cigar with his teeth.
"Sorry, sir," Jim replied. "I got a call from Bill just before they got here," Jim gestured to the Canadian-Chicago contingent. "I didn't get a chance to tell anyone. I mentioned this case, he volunteered to come and help. I pointed out that he's retired, and he said he'd see what he could do. He plans on arriving some time this weekend."
"And, just who is this Bill Maxwell?"
"That guy we found last spring, the one who'd been captured and held prisoner for so long?" Blair explained.
Simon remembered. He hadn't been aware that the guy had been a Fed. He had only been given sketchy information on what had happened and hadn't asked for further details. Now he wished he had.
"Prisoner?" Agent Ford asked in confusion. Jim and Blair just looked at him and he squirmed in his seat.
"Well," Agent White continued. "Agent Maxwell apparently has some pretty hefty pull. He's been reactivated for this. He'll be in charge of this operation." It was obvious that the man was not happy.
"In that case, I don't see any reason to continue until he arrives," Simon smiled. Agent White returned the smile, but his was somewhat sickly. "This meeting is adjourned until Monday morning. This is so nice, I wonder how much more they'll bring in this weekend?" Simon didn't direct the comment at anyone in particular, but they all flinched.
Everyone stood to go, but the captain called out, "Ellison, Sandburg? Would you stay for a moment, please?"
Ray Kowalski patted Blair on the shoulder as he left, and when the younger man made eye contact with him, he winked. Blair grinned, understanding that his friend and fellow guide to a sentinel was wishing him luck.
As soon as the door closed, Simon was talking. "Now, tell me about this Maxwell guy."
"Well, you know that we found him back in March, right?" Blair began to explain.
"Yes. You called to ask about any missing persons reports. I don't recall you mentioning that he was a Fed, however."
"It didn't seem germane, sir," Jim replied. "He'd been taken by some kind of lab and tortured for years, Simon. From what he was saying, he thinks someone in the Bureau was behind it. He got his full retirement and back pay for the years he was gone, but I guess he's bored."
"Bored? He's retired, so he gets bored and decides to come 'help' us? Jim...." Simon was growling.
"Sorry, sir. He's... well, he's special."
"Yes, sir. His partner, well, he's uh...." Jim looked to his own partner for help, only to see that Blair was refusing to look at him.
"His partner is? Is what, Jim?" He suddenly looked worried, "He's not another sentinel, is he?"
"No, sir, that would be Fraser. Kowalski acts as his guide," Blair answered. Simon looked like he was developing a major headache as he recalled that particular little fact.
"Wonderful. So, what's so special about Maxwell's partner?"
"Uh, well, he's got this suit," Jim hedged. Blair still wouldn't look at him.
"So? What about it? Lots of men have suits, Jim." Simon was not getting any happier as he waited for an explanation.
"Well, sir, the suit, well, it's not from here."
"So? What? It's Italian, or French or something? Who cares?"
"Uh, no, Simon. It's from... well somewhere else." Blair tried to help, but it wasn't working. Realizing that they had to tell him, Jim sighed.
"It's from another planet. I don't know where."
"And you believe this?" Simon was skeptical.
"We saw Ralph using the suit. He can, um, fly." Blair was embarrassed.
Simon looked from one man to the other, expecting a joke. Seeing that they were serious, he shook his head. "One of us needs a vacation in a rubber room..." He muttered.
"Ralph was the one who slagged the facility. He just glared at it, and everything burned and/or melted. He also dug the road out for us. Took him about half an hour to shovel five or six tons of dirt and rock off the road. It was... like something off of television. He really is Superman, but only because of the suit." Jim was doing his 'military officer making a report' routine. No expression, sitting at attention. Simon frowned, then sighed.
"You know I won't believe it until I see it?"
Blair was silent. "Sandburg? Don't you have anything to add?"
"No. If you don't believe Jim, why would you believe me?"
Simon frowned, concerned. "Blair?"
He sighed, finally lifting his eyes to their captain. "What? I have no proof. You won't accept Jim's eyewitness account, so why on earth would you accept mine?" There was a decidedly stubborn set to Blair's jaw as he made eye contact, a certain belligerence to his expression.
Simon sighed. "All right. I do believe you. It's just that..."
"It is pretty unbelievable," Jim agreed, softly.
"Just as unbelievable as a sentinel?" Blair added with a sardonic twist to his lips. Simon winced.
"Well, more so, actually," the captain admitted.
"Will that be all, sir?" Jim asked.
"For now. Go take care of our guests. I'm assuming they know all about you?"
"All but Constable Turnbull, sir," Jim replied.
"Okay. I'm sure you can handle everything. I hope you can, anyway."
"Yes, sir," both men murmured, standing.
They took the files with them to go over after dinner. The six of them headed out after deciding on the local Sizzler. As they ate, they discussed life in general, what had been happening in their lives since they had last seen one another. Turnbull remained mostly silent, an outsider in the group. At least, until Blair started asking him questions. Blair's nearly hysterical laughter brought everyone's attention to him.
"You have got to be kidding, Renfield! That's not humanly possible."
"I assure you that it is quite possible, Detective Sandburg. If you wish, I could demonstrate...."
"What are you claiming to be able to do, Ren?" Kowalski asked. He was smiling.
"I merely mentioned that it is possible to not only hang by one's fingertips, but to lift oneself," Turnbull replied.
"I don't believe it," Blair insisted. "Nobody has fingers that strong." He was looking at Turnbull's long, knobby-jointed fingers.
Kowalski shrugged. "If Ren says he can do it, I believe him."
"No way," Vecchio agreed with Blair. Jim and Fraser exchanged amused glances.
"Wanna bet?" Kowalski asked, belligerently.
"Ray, Ray!" Fraser interjected, "I don't believe that gambling is allowed here, either."
"We won't bet money," Kowalski insisted. "Loser gets the middle seat on the flight home?"
"Deal," Vecchio agreed.
"Oh, dear," Fraser murmured. Jim and Blair just chuckled. When they finished their meal, Jim led the way to a nearby park, where there was a wooden obstacle course. The monkey bars had wooden rails and metal rungs. It was high enough that even Turnbull could hang from them without touching the ground. He stretched up to grasp one of the side rails with his fingers and let his body hang, lifting his feet from the ground. Using just his fingers, he chinned himself, then continued lifting his long, lean body until he was forced to shift his grip as his hips cleared the bar. The observers were all impressed, and Kowalski was grinning.
"You get the middle seat goin' home, Ray," the blond detective chortled. Vecchio just gaped in amazement.
"What else can you do, Turnbull?"
"Well, I can do pushups from a hand-stand."
"Ray," Fraser admonished, frowning.
"Wanna make another bet, Ray?" Kowalski asked, slyly. Vecchio frowned, and then shook his head with a rueful little smile.
"Nope. I'm not stupid. What, you two cook these things up in your off-hours?"
"Nah. Ren doesn't lie," Kowalski replied. "If he says he can do something, he can."
Vecchio stared. "You mean, if he says something, you just believe him?"
"Sure. You believe Fraser, don't you? Well, Ren is just as honest." Kowalski grinned, slapping Turnbull on the back.
Vecchio sighed. "You set me up. Both of you. That is so... un-Mountie-like."
Kowalski laughed. "You just don't know Ren, Ray."
The Italian detective grinned ruefully. "You got me, Ray. Much as I hate to admit it, you got me."
Fraser smiled. It was taking time, but his friends were learning to get along. Ray Vecchio still tended to try and jerk Ray Kowalski's chain, but Kowalski had gone out of his way to get along, even to the point of befriending Turnbull, who was like the blond detective's dog, always ready to come to his aid and defend him. Not that Fraser would ever verbally mention that bit of information. No need to make matters worse. Of course, Kowalski's friendship with Turnbull had helped him with his own low self-esteem problem. Now, if only Vecchio could reconcile himself to the fact that Fraser and Kowalski were friends and that he was going to have to share Fraser with the other detective. He was beginning to believe that Vecchio was incapable of ever becoming friends with his official partner. Fortunately, Ray Kowalski didn't mind working with Turnbull. That had been a shock. Particularly when Ray had purchased tickets for the University of Chicago's curling playoffs. The three of them had yelled themselves hoarse that evening, much to the teams' pleased surprise. Of course, discovering that there were two Canadians in the group had gone far to explain their enthusiasm, still, it had been gratifying to the team.
They headed back for their cars. To avoid the two Chicagoans fighting over who should drive, Turnbull took the driver's seat, much to Jim and Blair's amusement. Kowalski leaned close to Blair and whispered, "We don't dare let Fraser drive, but Ren's pretty good," he confided. Blair chuckled and stepped back.
"We're staying at the Best Western, on Twenty-third, it's quite close to your home, I believe," Fraser informed them. "I have their number..." he handed Jim a card with the motel's logo and phone numbers. "We're in rooms one-oh-eight and one-oh-nine."
Jim nodded and slipped the card into his pocket. "If anything comes up, we'll call." They watched as they pulled away, smiling at the look of intense concentration on Turnbull's face as he pulled out into traffic.
Blair shook his head. "Ray said they let Turnbull drive because he and Ray would fight over the job, and neither of them trust Fraser to do it."
Jim, still watching their friends, shook his head. "That's a frightening thought." Then he grinned and clapped his partner on the shoulder. "Come on, let's head for home. The Mariners are playing tonight and it's on ESPN."
"Who're they playing?"
Both men chuckled as they headed for the truck.
Vecchio watched as his roommate dropped his dirty clothes on the floor. "Geeze, Stanley, don't be such a slob. Pick your crap up."
Kowalski glanced at his partner and scowled, not replying. Instead, he kicked his dirty clothes, spreading the pile.
"What? Don't you got no manners at all? What's with you, Stan-ley?" Vecchio frowned in annoyance.
Instead of saying anything, Kowalski snagged his card-key and headed out.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" Vecchio yelled after him. Kowalski didn't even flinch. Annoyed, now, Vecchio grabbed his own card-key and followed. He was just in time to see Kowalski disappear into the Mounties' room. He hurried after him, knocking loudly.
The door opened almost immediately and Turnbull frowned at him, but allowed him to enter. Seeing the displeasure on Fraser's face, he scowled at Kowalski, who pointedly ignored him. "What? What did I do? All I did was complain that he doesn't have to be such a slob, dumpin' his dirty clothes on the floor."
Kowalski continued to ignore him, while both Fraser and Turnbull looked at Vecchio in disapproval. "What?"
"Ray," Fraser sighed in exasperation. It seemed impossible. No sooner would they make some small inroad towards friendship, than one of them would do something to mess it up. He'd traveled with Kowalski. Yes, he tended to be a bit of a slob, but he also had a method to his 'slobbishness'.
"You didn't call him Ray, Ray," Fraser scolded.
"I called him by the name on his birth certificate," Vecchio defended himself. He knew how much Kowalski hated his given name and he couldn't resist using it every chance he got. Unfortunately, no one else found it amusing -- particularly not Fraser. Fraser's displeasure was not something that Vecchio enjoyed. "Okay, I'm sorry. But he didn't have to dump his filthy clothes all over the place." He was practically whining.
"Very true, Ray, but had you kept quiet, you might have at least not exacerbated the problem."
"I dump my dirty clothes on the floor, then I get my laundry bag out of my luggage, then I put the dirty clothes in that. But you jump Bogart all over me, sayin' my name that way you do, so why should I bother? I left so I wouldn't kick you in the head, but you followed me. I'll see you guys later. I'm out of here." Kowalski was annoyed, still, even though his Canadian friends had defended him.
"May I accompany you, Ray?" Turnbull asked very softly.
He glanced up at the taller man, then grinned and nodded. "Sure. You can come along and try and keep me out of trouble," he agreed. The two men headed out the door.
When they had gone, Fraser was still scowling at Vecchio.
"Whaaaat?" Ray whined, even though he knew perfectly well, 'what'.
Fraser shook his head and sighed, disappointment showing in his expression and stance.
"Hey, it's his name!" Ray defended himself. Fraser just frowned and looked away.
"Oh, come on, Benny, he's just too sensitive. I..."
"You do it deliberately. You call him 'Stan-ley' in such a manner that I'm frankly surprised he hasn't hit you, yet. He's your partner, Ray. The man who backs you up. The man you have to depend on for your safety, and who depends on you for his. The fact that you constantly rag on him, teasing him and calling him by a name he hates, that's just... it's just not 'buddies', Ray. I had hoped... but that's obviously not going to happen, is it? He's my friend, Ray. He's also my partner. I had hoped that the three of us could work together. Your own lieutenant partnered the two of you because of me." He began pacing, unwilling to look at the face of his friend, "What a disaster this has turned out to be. I at least depended on you, as my friend, to accept my other friend. Hell, Ray even made friends with Turnbull because of me! But you! You!" He turned on his friend, furious, his fists balled up and he had to restrain himself from striking him.
Vecchio gaped in shock. Benny had just said 'hell'. To him. He'd seen Benny angry, hurt, disappointed, annoyed, but never, even once, had he heard him swear. "Benny?"
"Enough, Ray. What's going to happen, one day, is that in a moment of crisis, you will call for your partner's assistance, only he won't come, because you didn't call him by the name he answers to. On that day, I will lose both of my best friends; one, because I'll never be able to forgive him, the other, because you'll be dead, Ray." Fraser didn't look angry any more. He looked sad. "And, worst of all, Ray, neither of you will deserve it."
Ray stared, hard, frowning. He actually thought about what he'd been doing. Sure, he got a kick out of jerking Kowalski's chain. The guy was just so easy to torment. He'd also been counseled by their lieutenant, who had told him to tread lightly with Kowalski. The man had been hurt, badly, and had very little self-esteem. Despite his self-doubts, he was a good detective, a good cop, and, according to the lieutenant, a fine human being.
Even Kowalski's ex-wife, whom he was dating, had ragged on him about tormenting her ex- husband. That had surprised him, although he was still friends with his own ex-wife. Still...
"I'm sorry, Benny. I'll try harder."
"Trying obviously isn't enough, Ray. You've made similar promises before. Nothing has helped. I give up. I shall ask to no longer work with either of you; perhaps Lieutenant Welsh will be able to find both of you other partners. I don't know, but I can't do this, any more. It's simply too exhausting. I suggest... no. It's not my place to suggest anything. You work it out and let me know. Perhaps...." He shook his head as though trying to clear water from his ears. "No. I give up. I'll have no more to do with it." He looked again at his friend. "I think it's time for you to leave, Ray. I'm tired and wish to go to sleep, now."
"Good night, Ray." He turned his back on his friend, who sighed, defeated, and left the room, returning to his own temporary quarters.
"I don't know why he gets to me so bad, Ren. It's like he's got this, this thing. This thing he pokes me with, every time he opens his mouth, you know? It's just a name, damnit! Why does he get to me so bad? Nobody else does. Shit, maybe it's me? Probably. Man, I suck." Ray had his hands stuffed in his pockets, his head down, as they walked down the street. His body language spoke volumes to his friend, how inadequate he felt, how little he believed in himself -- his guilt that everything was probably his fault.
"You do not suck, Ray. I don't believe it's just you, either. I think...." He trailed off, uncertain of his reception.
"What do you think, Ren?" Ray asked softly.
"I think that perhaps the two of you are, well, fighting for territory."
Ray stopped and stared. "Huh?"
"Well, perhaps not territory, I suppose. But I do believe that Constable Fraser is the reason for it."
"Well, he and Detective Vecchio were close friends, before he left to go under cover. It was quite a shock to him to return and find you in his friend's place, with no warning, no time to adjust. Yet you became friends. You also became partners, in a way he and Detective Vecchio never truly were. Then, when Detective Vecchio returned, you felt displaced, blocked off. Yet, after you caught Muldoon, you and Constable Fraser went off on an adventure. An adventure that Detective Vecchio would not have enjoyed."
They had continued walking and found themselves more than a mile from the motel, but they didn't really care. "So?" Ray asked, pausing.
"So, Detective Vecchio, who had been injured, had begun dating your ex-wife while you were gone. You were, I imagine, quite jealous."
Ray nodded, "Yeah. I was. I could see that he was everything I wasn't. Everything Stella wanted and I could never be. Hurt like hell."
Ren nodded. "But you still had Constable Fraser, for a friend, for a partner. Then, you found yourself partnered with Detective Vecchio. Not something either of you wanted. I believe that each of you may have felt that the other had stolen someone from you. You felt that he had stolen Stella, and he felt that you had stolen his friend, Constable Fraser."
Ray nodded, seeing it. "So, his calling me 'Stan-ley', is his way of proving to himself that he's better than me?"
"Not necessarily. It may simply be his means of reassuring himself that he has nothing to fear from you."
"That's great for him. But what do I got to do to fix this? He's my partner! How can I back him up, or expect him to back me up, if I can't trust him? I've tried really hard to just let it all go, but he don't stop." He shook his head, dismayed. "One of these days, this could get both of us dead, you know? He's my partner, and I don't trust him not to hurt me."
Renfield laid a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't know how to fix it, Ray. I'm not sure it can be fixed."
They were interrupted by a familiar voice. "Did you two get lost or something?" Blair Sandburg was carrying a bag of groceries from his car to the loft. Without realizing it, Ren and Ray had made their way to Jim and Blair's home.
"Or something, I guess. Me and Vecchio had another fight. I don't want to do this any more, but I don't know what to do. I'm sick and tired of biting my tongue and stayin' quiet. He knows exactly how to push my buttons, and I'm just tired of tryin' any more. I give up."
Blair frowned in concern. He exchanged a look with the just as worried Turnbull, and then offered a suggestion. "Hey, come on upstairs. Maybe we can figure something out?"
"Nah. I been venting at Ren, here for the past..." he looked at his watch, "hour. We should probably head back to the motel, before Fraser gets worried and starts lookin' for us."
"So, make a call from the loft," Blair suggested. Ray and Ren looked at each other. Renfield tilted his head to the side, questioning. Ray shrugged and turned to Blair.
"Okay. We can do that."
Fraser had been worried, and the phone call immediately soothed him. Knowing his friends were safe, he relaxed and offered to come and pick them up until Renfield pointed out that he had the keys to their rental car in his pocket. Ray laughed at that, snatched the phone from Turnbull's hand and informed Fraser that he was fine and the exercise was good for him. Once he was certain that Fraser was reassured of his safety and state of mind, he hung up, still chuckling.
"Okay, I'm better, now. We'd better head back, before he changes his mind and sends Dief out after us."
"You guys brought Diefenbaker?"
"Yeah, and Maedel," Ray added. Seeing their frowns of confusion, he looked puzzled, for a moment. "Oh, you don't know about her. She's my dog. A Belgian Malinois. She's about six months old, now. Great dog. Smart, loyal, great judge of character."
"I do believe that she is somewhat more intelligent than Diefenbaker, although that may be simply because she can hear," Turnbull added. "She's a beautiful animal."
Ray grinned proudly. Seeing Jim and Blair's questioning expressions, he explained. "Got her back in January. I was babysitting Dief when Fraser had to go to Ottawa with the Ice Queen for a week. We were out for a run, and he found this box, full of puppies. Only three were still alive. I kept Maedel, she was the runt; Ma Vecchio kept one, named her Gina; and Welsh took the last one for his kids. Her name is Tara."
"Welsh has kids?" Blair asked in surprise.
"Yeah, they've been back with him for about six-seven months, too. They're great kids."
"Man, we've really been out of touch, haven't we?" Blair shook his head, grinning.
"Well, yeah. It was just over a year that Fraser and me got back from our adventure and you called us for help, remember?"
"Yeah. We're not likely to forget," Jim agreed, smiling. "So, what's with you and Vecchio, anyway?"
Ray shook his head and sighed. "He keeps yankin' my chain, tryin' to piss me off. He's real good at it; to the point I really, really, want to hit him, but I know that if I did, Fraser'd get pissed at me. Some days, though, hmmmmph! Kick 'im in the head."
"Is that what brought you out tonight?" Blair asked.
Ray sighed. "Yeah. That or I was gonna hit him." His voice turned plaintive as he continued, "I mean, they guy's supposed to be my partner, but how can I depend on him? If he hates me so much that all he can do is jerk me around, how can I trust him to back me up? It's not so bad when Fraser's there, 'cause I know that he'll behave himself." He shook his head. "I'm just tired of it."
Turnbull reached over to pat his friend's shoulder, while Jim and Blair exchanged concerned frowns. "You've tried talking to him, I take it?" Blair asked.
"'Til I'm blue in the face. Doesn't do any good. Hell, Welsh even gave him formal 'counseling'. Not even that worked. I could understand it if I was, like maybe, still mooning over The Stella, but they're good together. He's better for her than I ever was or could be, so I don't get it, you know?"
"It doesn't sound good," Jim agreed. "Not being able to trust or depend on your partner can get one or both of you killed." He turned his gaze on his own partner, remembering their own previous difficulties.
"I know. If he gets hurt or killed, I just know that Fraser will blame me, but I don't know how much more I can take."
"Constable Fraser was very angry with Detective Vecchio, Ray. I'm certain you were too upset to notice, but he was. I'm quite certain that he and Detective Vecchio had words after we left."
Ray laughed, bitterly. "Hey, you weren't so subtle, yourself, Ren, 'volunteering' to 'accompany' me. What, you thought I might do somethin' stupid?"
"No, Ray. I came with you so that you could... what was the word you used? Vent?" He smiled.
Ray chuckled. "Yeah. You listen good, Ren. Even better than Fraser, sometimes." He gently punched his friend's shoulder; Ren's smile broadened in pleasure.
"Any time, Ray."
"Maybe we could talk to Vecchio," Jim offered, looking at Blair for agreement.
A moment of surprise flashed across Blair's face, then he nodded. "Yeah, Ray. After all, Jim and I have been through some tough times. We know how important trust is. Partnerships depend on it."
Ray shook his head, discouraged once more. "I don't know. I guess you could try. It sure couldn't make it any worse."
A few minutes later, Ray decided it was time to head back to the motel. He insisted on walking, saying that the exercise was good for him and thanking them for listening to him bitch and moan. When he and Renfield had left, Jim and Blair discussed what they could say to Vecchio to make him see what he was doing to their friend and, to himself. Unresolved, they headed for bed, each wondering how to help their friends.
Ray was silent all the way back to the motel. Renfield left him in his silence, recognizing that nothing he could possibly say at the moment would help. They quietly said 'good night' and went to their rooms.
Vecchio was either asleep, or pretending to be. That was fine with Kowalski. He got his laundry bag from his luggage and, after pushing Maedel off the pile, gathered his dirty clothes and put them in the bag. Then he stripped down and crawled into bed, pulling his puppy up to sleep with him. Sleep was a long time coming.
"How's Ray?" Fraser asked the moment Renfield entered their room.
"Depressed, I'm afraid. I understand his dismay, however. His restraint is taking its toll on him. He's trying so very hard to not retaliate. I'm sure you noticed that he hardly ate?"
"Yes. He's been doing that a lot, lately, at least when Ray is around." Fraser sighed. "I fear I may have exacerbated the problem. I became angry with Ray Vecchio and... well, I told him off, I'm afraid. I'm not certain that it made any lasting impression, however." He shook his head. "I wish I knew what to do."
"Detectives Ellison and Sandburg have also offered to attempt to intervene. Perhaps they might be able to reach him?"
"Perhaps. I fear for them. If things don't change, and soon, I'm afraid that something horrible will happen."
Discouraged, the two Canadians disrobed and stretched out on their beds. As with their American friends, sleep was a long time coming.
Bill had had no difficulty getting reinstated. His experience and the fact that he knew the participants had gone a long way towards the quick decision to reinstate him for the operation. Of course, the ease with which they'd agreed only served to reinforce his suspicion that his own people had been, at least in part, responsible for his original abduction. That was all right. Just as long as he never found out who his betrayer was. Not that he didn't have his suspicions. In the meantime, he had a trip to plan. His government travel card arrived by messenger that same afternoon, along with their reservations and plane tickets. He grinned. They hadn't even asked him about his 'assistant'. They'd be leaving Friday evening, after Ralphie got off work. Bill couldn't prevent the tiny thrill of excitement that shivered through his body, the anticipation of being back in the hunt.
Getting packed and ready to go took up most of the morning, but for Bill, the afternoon just crawled by. When Ralph showed up, with Pam and their kids, Bill was out on the front walk with his luggage, waiting impatiently. Pam and the kids had adopted him as an 'uncle', immediately. Of course, he was still just a big kid, himself, despite his age.
Ralph got out and helped him stow his bags in the back of the minivan. Bill got in the back with the kids, who immediately gave him hugs and started asking questions, which he refused to answer, giving them his patented 'need to know' speech, which only left the children in hysterics.
The trip to LAX was relatively peaceful, although Bill became more and more excited as they approached the airport. Ralph grinned, thinking about how much he'd missed this. While Bill had been recovering and getting his life straightened out, Ralph had started working out, losing some weight and building up some long-unused muscles, just in case. It had helped that Bill ran with him, although at first, Bill could outrun him. He'd been terribly embarrassed to realize that Bill was in better shape than he was. Sure, the 'little green guys' had healed him, but he had still had some residual weakness from his years of abuse and starvation. It had taken nearly as long for Bill to recover as it had for Ralph to slim down and muscle up.
It took Ralph half an hour to say good-bye to his wife and children, while Bill fidgeted anxiously, wanting to get going. Finally, they were heading for their plane and the hour and a half long flight. The moment they were seated, Bill leaned back and fell asleep. Ralph shook his head. Even after sixteen plus years, the man still fell right back into his previous habits. Smiling, he leaned back in his seat and patiently awaited take-off.
Bill remained asleep until they began their descent into SEA-TAC. He grinned at Ralph and stretched, looking forward to landing and getting on the job. It was almost like before the abduction, they didn't need to speak, knowing what each other was thinking and would do. Once in the rental car, Bill let Ralph drive, while he navigated. By seven, they were checking into their motel.
"So, where to, now?" Ralph asked, once they got to their room.
"Now, we can either go out for dinner, or call Jim and Blair to see if they'd like to join us." He smiled as he picked up the phone and dialed. "Yeah, Jim, Bill. We're here. Room one- fourteen at the Best Western. Really? Great, no, we haven't. Good. See you in a few, then." Hanging up, he turned to his partner. "Jim said that the guys from Canada are staying here, too. They'll come here and we can decide where to eat."
"Great. Did he say anything about the Canadians?"
"Only that they're friends of theirs. Should be all right."
"Great. Maybe we can manage to keep the suit a secret?"
Bill grinned. "With any luck at all. I wonder if the Canucks know about Jim?"
Ralph frowned, "I don't have any idea. If they're friends..."
"Yeah, could be." They'd just have to wait and see.
Jim and Blair decided to stop at Bill and Ralph's room, first. Jim had called his captain to inform him of their arrival and to invite him to join them for dinner. Simon had agreed, asking them to call him to tell him where to meet them.
Bill opened the door before they could knock. "Hey, guys. Come on in. Just catching up on the local news." Bill was wearing a suit, much to Jim and Blair's surprise. "What?"
"Uh, what's with the suit, Bill?" Blair asked, puzzled.
Bill frowned, looking down at himself. "I always wear a suit, well, when working, anyway. Well, most of the time." He frowned, realizing how easily he'd fallen into the 'Fed' habit. "I can change if you want?"
"Nah. Our captain wears a suit and tie, too. You can make him feel more comfortable," Blair replied, grinning.
"So, where are we going?" Ralph asked. He was dressed casually, in dockers, a polo shirt, and a sports jacket.
"Haven't decided, yet. Figured we'd decide once we all got together. Come on, we'll introduce you to our Canadian and Chicago Liaisons," Jim said, leading the way out.
"Chicago?" Bill asked, following them.
"Yeah. We got lucky. Turns out that our liaison people are some friends. They're good men."
"Sounds good," Ralph said.
Blair knocked on one door, while Jim knocked on the other one. The two rooms were just down from Bill and Ralph's, making things convenient. Both doors opened simultaneously. Kowalski grinned at Jim, while Turnbull smiled at Blair, and then turned their attention to the two strangers.
"C'mon, Vecchio. Get the lead out. They're here," Kowalski called over his shoulder as he came into the hall. Fraser, who was looking curiously at the newcomers, quickly followed Turnbull out. Vecchio, with a grim expression, followed his partner out, slamming the door behind him. It was obvious that he was in a foul mood.
Glaring at Bill, Vecchio positively sneered, "You must be the Feebee."
Bill, surprised, reacted with an aplomb that would have been impossible sixteen years earlier. "And you must be the south end of the north-bound burro. And I prefer Fan Belt Inspector, if you must use derogatory terms."
Kowalski snickered. "Ray Kowalski, Chicago P.D. You must be the new Fed. Pleased to meet you." He extended his hand. Bill returned his grin and shook hands.
"Bill Maxwell. This is my partner, Ralph Hinkley." He politely turned to indicate his friend.
"You a Fed, too?" Kowalski asked.
"No, just a friend. Bill and I go back a ways." Ralph accepted the extended hand, shaking it. "I'm a high school teacher, actually."
"Really?" Kowalski asked in surprise. "So... how'd you get hooked up workin' with a Fed?"
Bill laughed, "It's a very long, fascinating story, but if we told you, we'd have to kill you. You seem like too nice a guy to do that to."
Kowalski laughed. He liked these guys. He admitted to himself, however, that part of that might just have been because Vecchio had taken such an immediate and obvious dislike to them.
Blair, concerned with Vecchio's surly mood, introduced everyone. "These two are Constables Benton Fraser and Renfield Turnbull, of the RCMP. The grumpy one is Ray Vecchio." Not even Blair could keep the disapproval from his voice. Vecchio grunted in response, not really caring.
"Nice to meet you," Bill shook hands with the Canadians. "So, where to, now?"
"I was thinking that pizza would be acceptable for dinner. We can get a big table and talk about the case. My captain would like to join us, particularly since Ford and White kind of took off after White got the call that you were taking over." Jim looked at his friends and waited for their decision.
"Hey, I love pizza," Bill grinned. Ralph shrugged, not caring one way or another. The Canadians nodded and Kowalski said "Greatness." Only Vecchio remained silent. The Canadians exchanged worried looks, while Jim and Blair frowned.
Kowalski ignored his partner. "So, who's got the biggest vehicle, or should we caravan or walk?" he asked, turning towards the exit. The others followed him, with Vecchio silently bringing up the rear.
"Well, Ray, we do have the van," Renfield reminded him.
"Yeah, and it'll seat nine. There's only eight of us, so that would work. Or, we could just walk somewheres. How far do we got to go, Jim?"
"Depends. What kind of pizza do you want?"
"Hot. Anything with pineapple," Kowalski grinned.
"I love pineapple on pizza," Ralph agreed. Bill frowned at him for a moment, then shrugged.
"Never tried it, but if you say it's good. I'm game."
"No pineapple for me," Jim shuddered. "I hate the stuff."
Blair thoughtfully said, "Well, if you wanted to walk, there's a Pizza Hut about four, maybe five blocks from here. Over on Wilson."
"Walking is good," Kowalski agreed. They paused as they got outside. The two Canadians and Kowalski looked at their fourth member, waiting for him to say something.
Realizing he was the center of attention again, Vecchio scowled. "What?"
"Walk or drive, Ray?" Kowalski asked softly.
"Hell, I don't care. You can fly for all I care."
"Man, you have some attitude there, kid," Bill grumbled, not unkindly. "What crawled up you're a... uh, what's wrong with you? So, okay, you don't like Feds. Not a problem. We're both guests here, Jim and Blair are the ones in charge, this is their bailiwick. If that's what's eating you, well, I'm sorry. I offered to help out my friends. I was under the impression that you were friends, too. If I'm wrong, then I'm sorry, but don't take it out on them. You got a problem with me, you tell me."
"It's my fault," Kowalski sighed. "He's pissed off at me, again. Look, you guys go on and eat. I'll just...."
"No, Ray." Fraser was frowning and glaring at Vecchio. "Ray?" Vecchio didn't look up, just stood there with his head down and chewed at his lower lip. "Ray?" Fraser asked more softly. "Please, don't do this."
Vecchio struggled and finally shook his head. "Forget it, Benny. I think I'm gonna go back to Chicago, okay? You don't need me here."
Kowalski sighed, "Right. Run off and leave me without a partner and no backup. One of these days, Vecchio... hmmmph! I'll kick ya in the head."
Vecchio laughed, humorlessly. "Yeah, sure, Stan-ley...." He never saw the slender blond move but he was suddenly flat on his back on the pavement with Kowalski standing and looking down at him. Everyone froze in shock.
His mouth was pinched tight and his face was pale. He shook his head and backed away. He glanced at the six men who still stood, staring at him in surprise. "Sorry. I'm sorry." The words were softly spoken, and then he was gone, turned and running.
"Ray!" Fraser called after him, but Kowalski didn't even slow down. Instead of following him, he went back into the motel, leaving the others gaping.
Vecchio lay on the pavement, carefully examining his jaw. He hadn't realized just how hard his partner could hit. Bill, noticing that no one else was going to move, reached down to offer Vecchio a hand up. Ray looked up in surprise, knowing perfectly well that he'd been acting like a jerk with everyone. He accepted the hand and was quickly pulled to his feet, just as Fraser returned with two dogs.
Crouching, Fraser took the muzzle of his white wolf mix in his hands and spoke to him, "Go find Ray and stay with him." He glanced at the darker dog and repeated it, "Go on, Maedel, go find your master and stay with him." The dark dog, obviously still a puppy, whined and looked at the older animal, which snorted, put his nose to the ground for a moment, then led the way on the same path that Kowalski had taken. Fraser stood and watched the two animals until they turned from sight.
"Hopefully, Animal Control won't catch them," Ralph murmured.
"I'd be more worried about them getting hit by a car," Bill replied.
"Ray probably didn't go very far," Jim said.
Bill looked at him for a moment, and then turned in the direction the man and dogs had gone and tilted his head. He nodded. "Yeah. I see what you mean. Should we wait for him?"
"Yes," Turnbull said insistently, glaring at Vecchio, who was still quite subdued and rubbing his sore jaw.
"I hope he didn't hurt his hand," Blair mumbled softly. Jim, Fraser, Ralph, and Bill all nodded, as if in agreement.
Vecchio shivered. He could feel the anger from the others, their anger at him. He didn't know why, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He simply did not like the guy. Why couldn't they understand that? What was wrong with everybody? They all defended Kowalski and took his side.
Bill watched Vecchio and saw the surly, angry, hurt look on his face. He moved over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, gently urging him to walk with him, away from the others. Vecchio frowned at him, but followed. When they were far enough away, Bill turned on the younger man.
"I don't know what you have against him, he seems like a nice enough guy, but that's neither here, nor there. What you have to consider is that the guy's your partner. You have to depend on him to keep you alive, and he depends on you for the same. I don't think he trusts you. That could make him hesitate, some day, which might get one or both of you killed. I've lost partners, guys I liked, who were friends as well as partners. It's hard to work alone -- never having anyone you can depend on to back you up. When Ralph and I teamed up, I didn't trust him or even like him all that much. I know he didn't like me. It took some time, but we worked through it. Ralphie's my best friend, now, but at the beginning, man we could have killed each other." Bill grinned, remembering.
"So?" Ray knew that the Fed was right, but that didn't make it any easier to take.
Bill sighed. "You're a cop. If you don't trust your partner, you end up dead. I'm just observing that your friends are all pretty pissed off at you, so I suppose you and your partner have been ragging on each other all along? You at least need to talk to each other, you know. Maybe if you sat down, just the two of you, and talked about it, you could come to some kind of agreement, or at least an understanding." He could see that Ray was listening, albeit with ill grace. "Even if you hate the guy, whatever reason you may have for that, he's still your partner, and you need to be concerned, if not for him, then for yourself." Bill could see that Ray was concerned, even worried. "Hey, just talk to the guy. If you need a mediator, I'll meet with you, or Ralph." He saw Ray frown and explained. "We're strangers. No involvement, no preconceived notions."
"Except that I've been acting like a jerk."
"Well, besides that," Bill agreed, grinning.
Ray looked at him and smiled a bit ruefully, himself. "Yeah. Okay. Maybe when we get back after supper?"
"You got it. We can meet in either your room or ours." Bill patted Ray on the shoulder and turned away, "We'll get it worked out. You'll see."
Ray watched the strange man as he turned back to the others, leaving him alone in the shadows. With a subconscious shiver, he hurried back to the rest of the group, just in time to see Kowalski dragged back by the dogs.
"Okay, who the hell's idea was it to let Maedel loose?" He was glaring at them all and had his belt around the dog's neck, which was very subdued as she walked at heel.
"I did, Ray. I sent them both after you. Diefenbaker knows to watch out for her. Besides, I knew you hadn't gone far and felt that the dogs would get you to return sooner than if one of us went after you." Fraser was perfectly calm in his response, then crouched down to give Diefenbaker a good ear-scratching.
"Yeah? Well you can do with Dief what you want. Do not ever turn my dog loose like that again."
"Ray," Turnbull spoke softly, and Ray turned to him, glaring. Seeing the younger man's reproachful expression, he sighed and his shoulders slumped, defeatedly.
"Sorry. I'm sorry." He looked around and spotted his partner. "I'm sorry I hit you, Ray."
"Yeah, me too. Sorry you hit me. Man, you really pack a wallop. And I'm sorry, too. For calling you S... that name. I promise to try harder. Not to, that is.
"Yeah. Okay. That's good." Kowalski obviously didn't quite believe him, but he was trying to make nice, for the sakes of the rest of the group.
"So, we going to walk or drive to dinner?" Bill asked, smiling inanely at them all.
Kowalski quickly glanced at Vecchio and then shrugged. "Drive, I guess. Let me put Maedel and Dief back in the rooms, though." He motioned to Dief to come with him and headed back into the motel.
"Nice dogs. What are they?" Ralph asked, in order to fill the time while they waited.
"Maedel is a Belgian Malinois, and Diefenbaker is half wolf, probably crossed with some type of husky."
"Well, they're both beautiful animals. That puppy is going to be huge," Bill added.
"The breed is quite large, up to 21 inches for females, although I wouldn't be surprised if Maedel grows larger than the standard. Ray has been very enthusiastic in his care of her." Fraser's pride in his friend was obvious.
Kowalski returned and they made their way to the rental van that Turnbull drove. The short trip to the restaurant was quiet, as though everyone was afraid of saying anything that might start the two Rays arguing, again. Jim remembered and pulled out his cell phone to give their captain a call to let him know where to meet them.
Once at the restaurant and seated at a large, round table, they began speaking quietly to one another as they waited for the arrival of the final member of the group. Thankfully, neither Mountie had seen fit to wear their uniform, so there was nothing particularly obvious about them, although Bill did stand out a bit in his dark gray suit. When Simon arrived, he was introduced to the pair from California and sat down between Bill and Kowalski. His suit was the exact same color as the visiting Fed's, though no one saw fit to comment upon it.
"So, what do you know about our problem, Agent Maxwell?" Simon asked, after they had ordered.
"It's Bill, Captain, and I just know what Jim told me on the phone yesterday. Ralph and I just thought that we might be able to help. So, tell me about this pipeline that's going through your fair city?" He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together across his stomach. His eyes were focused on Captain Banks, although he was also aware of everyone else at the table, as well as everyone else around them.
"We've had a recent very large influx of Meth through the region. It's a pretty safe bet that it's coming from Canada, since two mules were picked up trying to cross into the US. The RCMP has been trying their best to stop it on their side, but the way their laws work, only the finished product is illegal. So, even though someone has the ingredients to make a ton of that crap, unless they find sufficient actual product, the worst they can expect is a fine." Simon watched as Bill frowned, obviously thinking.
"So the best we can do is catch them as they cut through Cascade on their way to larger markets, right?"
"I'm afraid, so."
"What about the DEA? Shouldn't they be involved in this? Rather than the FBI, I mean?" Ralph asked.
"They are, but we're still considered a 'small' market. Just a way-station on the way to bigger cities and larger profits." Simon's discouragement was audible in his voice.
"Too bad we can't just go and blow up their labs, huh?" Vecchio said softly.
"Ray, that would be illegal," Fraser said reprovingly. Both Vecchio and Kowalski sighed, wishing it were otherwise.
"Yeah, but it would help with the problem," Kowalski agreed with his partner, who looked at him in surprise.
"It might be better to hit them in the pocketbook, though," Bill murmured. "Once the stuff is made and smuggled in, nailing them then... that would really twist their chains. Them losing not only all that junk, but having wasted their time to begin with. I doubt if we can stop it, about the best we can expect is to make them look for another way to market. Of course, if there were any way to make it too hard...." Bill sighed. "Like I said, the best we can expect is to make them find an easier way through that bypasses Cascade."
They all nodded their agreement. Their pizzas arrived just then and they all dug in. Only Vecchio was drinking beer, the rest had opted for pitchers of soda. There were several minutes of near silence, only occasional murmurs of appreciation or a request that something be passed. Once the edge of their hunger was assuaged, they resumed their discussion.
Simon began, "If we can get them to bypass Cascade, I'd be satisfied. Unfortunately, that might mean that they go through Seattle or somewhere else, but my concern is here."
"Yeah," Vecchio agreed. "Chicago has enough problems without being a pipeline for a bunch of new meth labs in Canada. No offense, Fraser."
"None taken, Ray," Fraser replied. "I admit that I'm rather dismayed at the idea that nothing can be done from our end, but our laws simply don't permit us to provide prevention like American laws do."
"Yeah, but if we can make it harder for them to get it down to their customers, that could deter them just as much, don't you think?" Kowalski added.
"Anything that slows down the supply chain is good. If we can manage to stop one or two manufacturers, then that's even better. All we can do, is whatever we can," Bill agreed.
"So, what did you have in mind, Bill?" Blair asked.
Bill glanced at his partner, who nodded, almost imperceptibly. "Well, I thought that Ralphie and I might just take a look around, see what we can see, get a feel for the area. Then, with any luck, we might find something. Say, a warehouse or crack house where there's a lot of traffic, take it down and ask some questions."
"That's a great idea, but the other two Feds won't be back until Monday, when our next meeting is scheduled," Simon didn't sound at all happy.
"And, it being the weekend, there might be some movement," Jim agreed.
"Well, why don't I go out and do my thing?" Ralph asked, raising his eyebrows in question to his partner.
Bill grinned. "You want to go out so soon after eating?"
Ralph chuckled. "Sure, why not? It's not like I have to wait an hour or anything."
Bill nodded. "If you want. Do you have any idea of what to look for?"
Ralph's face fell. "No. I don't, not really." He looked at Jim. "Can you explain to me what to look for?"
The Canadian/Chicago contingent exchanged puzzled looks. "Why don't we all go out looking?" Turnbull asked.
"Ralph has a... rather unusual advantage," Jim didn't explain.
"Similar to Constable Fraser's?" Turnbull asked, tilting his head to one side, trying to figure out what, exactly, was going on.
"What do you mean?" Blair asked, worriedly.
"Well, Constable Fraser's senses are somewhat better than normal." He realized he had said the wrong thing when everyone at the table stiffened. "Oh, dear. I wasn't supposed to say anything?" He directed that last to his compatriot, who simply stared at him.
"I wasn't aware that you knew, Turnbull," Fraser finally spoke, looking worriedly at the rest of the group.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't know it was a secret," Turnbull was blushing a bright pink.
Kowalski chuckled. He looked at their friends, who were still staring at Turnbull, and he also noticed that the Feds didn't seem surprised by the announcement, so he took a chance. "Okay, so, I take it that everyone here knows about the senses thing?"
Everyone glanced at their partners and friends and finally came back to focus on Turnbull, who was still blushing in embarrassment.
Kowalski nodded, "Okay, everyone knew but didn't know that Ren knew." He looked at the Feds "So, are you like Fraser and Jim?" He asked it boldly, looking them in the eyes.
"Not exactly," Ralph hedged uncertainly.
"Okay, but sort of?" Kowalski pressed, needing to get them all on the same page.
"Sort of." Bill agreed, glancing first at his partner, then at Jim and Blair, who seemed to be taking it all with aplomb.
"So, Ralph here is the one with the super powers, right? And you, Bill, take care of him and help him, am I right?"
"Close enough," Bill agreed, impressed with Ray's perceptiveness.
"Greatness. So, you're like me and Blair, then, sort of guiding/training/backing them up?"
Bill nodded, "More or less. I generally pick out the assignments, but Ralph does most of the work, simply because he's the one who can."
"I can deal with that." Kowalski looked at his companions, frowning at his official partner, "So, can you deal with that, Ray?"
Vecchio had watched and listened. It made a lot of sense, actually, with three sets of sentinels and their partners... and he suddenly realized why he was always so down on Kowalski. He frowned, thinking hard.
"That's it," Vecchio said.
"What is?" Kowalski asked.
"That's why you and me don't get along. You're Benny's partner in this sentinel stuff." He looked at his friend, who was frowning at him. "That's part of it, anyway. I think Stella's the other part. I'm jealous. This is stupid!" He shook his head, grinning ruefully. "Man, how dumb can I get?"
"Wait, why would you be jealous of me, Ray?" Kowalski asked, totally confused. "You got The Stella, she loves you. Of course, you should know that if you marry her, you'll also get my parents in the deal."
"Why would I get your parents, Stan-ley?" He hadn't even thought about what he was saying, but the frowns and scowls he received made him replay what he said and he shook his head. "Sorry, Ray," he corrected.
"'Cause they adore Stella. She talks to my mum at least once a week, sometimes more."
"What about her folks?" Vecchio didn't need two sets of in-laws. One was usually more than enough.
Kowalski shrugged. "She's closer to my mum than her folks. But with you, maybe they might approve."
Vecchio frowned. He had been told that his partner didn't think much of himself and had heard him speak self-disparagingly on more than one occasion, but hadn't really connected to the idea. "What?"
"Stella's folks never approved of me. I was too Polish, too scrawny, not enough money, not enough smarts, don't dress right for 'the club'. You know. I'm me, not you." His grin was sad, but obviously not acrimonious.
"That's bullshit," Vecchio responded.
"Nah, it's the truth," Kowalski frowned, puzzled by his partner's attitude.
"No, I mean her folks not liking you. That's bullshit."
"Why? You don't like me, either." There was just a hint of attitude in his voice,
That silenced Vecchio, who frowned in consternation, then shook his head. "It's not that I don't like you, Ray. Like I said. I just figured out that I'm jealous of you."
"For what? I'm a scrawny Chicago flatfoot with experimental hair, what's to be jealous of?"
"Hey, at least you have hair," Vecchio countered, suddenly grinning.
Kowalski stared for a moment, then laughed. "Well, yeah, okay. I'll grant you that one."
Fraser watched in amazement as the two previously antagonistic men were suddenly getting along. He exchanged surprised looks with the rest of the group, noticing that Bill was smiling and nodding, as if he knew all along that this would happen. He frowned briefly, thinking. Perhaps this strange Fed did know something. At this particular moment, Fraser could believe just about anything was possible. He focused back on the Chicagoans and was surprised to hear them exchanging jokes. He shook his head and looked at Turnbull, who sat with an inane smile on his face.
"Well, while you guys make nice, I'm going to fly around and see what I can see. Jim? What am I looking for?" Ralph said softly.
"Look for activity in areas where there shouldn't be any. I figure the old warehouse district down by the docks might be a good place, or there's an area near Southtown that has a lot of drugs and other trouble. Or, for that matter, to the north, in the new warehouse district, there are a lot of industrial parks, which would be a good place to bring drugs through."
"In other words, I should just fly around and see what I can see?" Ralph asked.
"Yeah. I'm afraid so. I wish I had a better idea, but that's all I can think of."
Ralph nodded. "Okay. I'll meet you back at the motel, Bill. Don't forget to leave a light on for me."
"I won't, partner," Bill replied, understanding what Ralph left unsaid. Waving to the others, Ralph headed out.
"Shouldn't someone go with him?" Turnbull asked, concerned.
"He'll be okay. It's harder if he has to take someone along, really weighs him down, and he needs everything he has to be able to look for the bad guys," Bill said confidently.
"Don't you worry about him?" Kowalski asked, frowning.
"Every second," Bill blithely admitted. "But I know from experience that he'll do this part better on his own."
"What's with the 'leave a light on'?" Vecchio asked.
Bill smiled, a bemused expression on his face, "That's just sort of something we do. Like 'don't worry, I'll be fine, partner' kind of thing."
The seven men around the table nodded their understanding, they all had their key phrases and words that they used with each other, at least, most of them did.
"So, Bill," Simon brought them back to the here and now, "How do you want us to handle this? You are, after all, nominally in charge, being the senior agent here."
"Well, despite the FBI's reputation, I have no problem letting you guys do all the work and getting all the credit for the arrests. I just want to stop the bad guys." Bill grinned and watched the surprise on everyone's faces. He shrugged. "Hey, I've had a lot of time to think about what's important, and stopping bad guys is what I do, what I want to do, you know?" He received nods from the others. "So, since I'm actually retired, it doesn't bother me who gets the credit, just so long as the bad guys get got."
"Wait a minute, you're retired? How old are you?" Vecchio asked, confused. Bill didn't look all that much older than he was, but he was retired?
"I'm a lot older than I look."
"How much is a lot?" Kowalski asked.
Everyone stared at him in disbelief. "No way," Vecchio insisted.
"Why not?" Bill asked, grinning.
"You don't look over forty-five, at the most," Kowalski agreed with his partner.
Still grinning, Bill pulled out his wallet and removed his driver's license, handing it over to them. The date was right on the front and both men shook their heads, not understanding.
Jim smiled and said softly, "It's part of that long story he mentioned earlier, and why if he told you, he'd have to kill you; and I'd have to help him hide the bodies."
Fraser's eyebrows rose in surprise, "You know?"
Jim nodded. "Only because I was there. Just think of it as something that you don't need to know, all right?" He received shrugs and nods of agreement.
"So, what if Ralph finds something?" Simon asked.
Bill grinned. "Do you have a judge you can call for a search warrant? If Ralph finds anything, he'll get a good look and can be the eye-witness, if necessary."
"How? He can't very well just sneak inside, can he?" Vecchio asked.
"No, but if he sees anything, he'll find a way to provide us with a realistic witness. Don't worry."
Kowalski frowned, "Is he like Fraser and Jim?" he queried.
"What, he doesn't have as many enhanced senses?"
"Not exactly. His are, uh, well, let's just say his abilities aren't natural, like Jim's and your partner's. He has help." Bill's explanation was less than useful.
"What, he's got gadgets or something?" Vecchio pressed.
"Not exactly. Look, I already told you that if I tell you, I'd have to kill you." Bill was grinning.
"Well, if Ralph finds anything, be sure to give me a call and I'll see about search warrants," Simon said, standing. "Dinner was excellent, as was the company. It was nice to meet you and Ralph, Bill. Hopefully, we can do something about our problem." He turned to the others, "It was also nice to meet you, Constable Turnbull. The rest of you, it was nice seeing you again, and this time, under much nicer circumstances." He turned to his pair of detectives, "You two, keep everyone out of trouble, particularly, yourselves." The last was said forcefully.
"Yes, sir," Jim murmured, and then grinned. Simon shook his head, knowing perfectly well that his men could find trouble, no matter how hard they tried to avoid it, as it tended to come looking for them. With a final wave, Simon left.
Ralph had worn the suit under his clothes. Stripping off his outer garments, he carefully stowed them in the pouch on his belt. Checking to make sure no one would see him, he took three quick steps and launched himself into the air, quickly soaring up and out of sight. Using the ocean as his guide, he first went straight up, to get his bearings so that he could find his way back to the motel. He then headed west, to check out the old waterfront area and the multitude of abandoned warehouses there. He hadn't done this often after Bill had been abducted, but when Bill had returned, he'd gone into 'training'. Bill had coached him, insisting that he be in good condition and able to do his 'tricks' without constant coaching from his partner. They were about to discover how well all the practice Bill had put him through would pay off. He hovered over the dark warehouse area and focused his vision, searching for anything out of the ordinary. He found a number of derelicts, but no signs of drugs. Trying to decide between Southtown and the northern warehouse district, he tried to think of where Bill would look, next. Making his decision, he headed north.
He was getting tired. Not only had he worked that day, finishing up with his schoolwork, there had been the flight up and it was getting quite late. He knew, however, that Bill wouldn't give up until he'd completed his search, so neither would he. Still, he was tired.
It was at the tenth little industrial park. There were a dozen cars and lights on in one of the warehouses. Dropping down lower, Ralph used his x-ray vision and suit-enhanced hearing to discover what was going on. Perching on a lamppost across the street, he was able to see inside. Landing on the pavement, he was still able to see. Bingo. He looked for an address, then the street name. The lookouts never noticed him and he took three steps and again launched into the air for the flight back to the motel, to meet up with his colleagues.
Bill had the door open and was waiting for him when he came in. "Well?"
"3842 West Clark, bay G," Ralph reported. Bill snagged the phone off the bedside table and quickly dialed.
"Jim? Yeah, Bill. 3842 West Clark, bay G. Here, talk to Ralph, while I get the others." He handed the phone to Ralph, who listened, then described what he had seen. He'd been able to see clearly, and without using the suit's powers, which was good. Jim promised to get a hold of Simon and try to get a warrant. He'd call back when he knew more.
Bill knocked on the Canadian's door first, then the Chicagoans. Both doors opened almost immediately. "Ralph got an address. Come on over. He can fill us in while we wait for Jim and the PD."
Fortunately, no one had prepared for bed, as yet, and everyone was still dressed, although Kowalski had to get his shoes. He simply grabbed them and carried them with him, rather than take the time to put them on, first. Once gathered in Bill and Ralph's room, they all found somewhere to settle to listen to Ralph report on what he'd found. Then they had to wait to see whether or not the locals would be able to get a search warrant in time to do any good.
Ralph told them what he had seen, describing the trucks being unloaded. More important, was the fact that Ralph had seen one of the crates opened and the contents taken out for examination. There was no missing the fact that the primary cargo had been drugs. When Jim and Blair arrived, with the news that Simon and the rest of their crew would be meeting them at the warehouse with the warrants, they packed into Renfield's van and followed Jim and Blair to the scene.
They met the rest of the officers one block away from the warehouse where Ralph had seen the shipment being unloaded. Introductions were quickly made and the various officers moved into place. Jim apologized as he assigned their visitors to stay at the entrance to the cul-de-sac that provided the only entrance and exit from the warehouse. When Simon arrived with the warrant, they headed in.
It was hard to have to stay out of the line of fire, particularly for the two Rays. They watched and fidgeted and muttered and complained. The Canadians remained silent and standing practically at attention as they watched the action down the street. Bill and Ralph lounged on the hood of Simon's car as they watched and waited, surprisingly patient.
The sudden sounds of a revving engine, shouting, and gunshots put them all on alert as a decrepit old truck came barreling out of the warehouse. Vecchio, Kowalski, and Maxwell drew their pistols and waited for the approaching vehicle to come closer, opening fire when it was within range. Kowalski had pulled his glasses out along with his pistol and shot out both front tires of the approaching truck with his first two shots. Vecchio's shots hit the front of the truck, puncturing the radiator, while Maxwell simply aimed for the driver, shattering the windshield. The combination of firepower put the truck out of control and heading straight for them. Unable to not do something, Ralph ran forward and stopped the truck... with his hands, simply setting himself and reaching out to stop it. The truck wrapped around him like he was a telephone pole, with a shattering crash. Turnbull, the first to see Ralph move, tried to stop him, but he wasn't nearly fast enough. With Fraser right behind him, they rushed to see what they could do to save their new acquaintance. The only one who seemed unconcerned was Ralph's partner, Bill.
When the steam from the demolished radiator cleared, Ralph stood, massaging one wrist. The two Canadians skid to a stop, gaping, Vecchio and Kowalski right behind them. Bill checked on the truck's passengers, calling 911 on his cell phone to request paramedics and an ambulance. Deciding that the unconscious suspects were in no danger, he checked for bleeding and breathing, finding very little blood, and that the four men crammed into the cab of the truck were all still breathing; he opted to do no more, as there was little danger of fire. Turning to his partner, he frowned as he realized that Ralph seemed injured.
"Hey, buddy, what happened to you?"
"Ah, my stupid wrist. I've got some carpel tunnel. I guess I aggravated it. It feels kind of sprained. It's fine, you can all stop hovering."
"How the hell did you do that? You should be paste under that truck!" Vecchio glared at the insane man. Ralph frowned and then looked at his partner, who gave him a sickly grin and shrugged.
"You didn't tell them? I thought you said we could trust them? Why didn't you tell them?" Ralph began shaking more from the letdown after the adrenaline rush than actual anger.
"It didn't come up?" Bill asked, lamely.
"What the hell was that?" Vecchio asked again, looking in fear at the two men.
"Well, it's kind of a long story. Uh, do you think it can wait until later? Here come the paramedics, not to mention the locals," Bill was watching the officers from the warehouse approach, confused expressions on most of their faces.
"But you will explain, right? How you managed to stop that truck without getting creamed?" Kowalski asked insistently.
Bill and Ralph exchanged calculating looks, "I guess so," Ralph reluctantly agreed.
Unfortunately, the explanations would have to wait. Once all the suspects were rounded up and taken in, came the interrogations. Most of the suspects were locals, tough, hardened men. However, the drivers of the trucks were not. They were simply mules, hired to transport some contraband through customs. They'd had no idea that what they were carrying was drugs, they thought it was Canadian beer, headed for an illegal club. Or so they said.
With two sentinels sitting in on the interviews, they never had a chance. While Jim and Fraser sat by, Fraser looking sympathetic and Jim looking forbidding, Bill asked the questions. He was calm and reasonable, almost gentle in his handling of the suspects.
"Why in the world would I believe a story like that?" Bill asked. "You honestly expect me to believe you thought you were smuggling beer? There wasn't a single can or bottle in your entire load, so what made you think that that's what you were sneaking into the States?" It was obvious to them all that the man was lying. He was perspiring profusely, far more than the temperature of the room would indicate.
Jim growled, "Give me five minutes alone with him."
Fraser smothered a smirk. "I'm afraid I can't allow that, detective. He is, after all, a Canadian citizen. Perhaps I might have a word with him?" He smiled at the man, who felt no reassurance.
"Sorry, boys," Bill said firmly. "He's all mine. Federal takes precedence. This nice little Canuck is going to be our guest for a good, long time. Have they gotten a number on how many kilos there are, yet?"
"In his truck? About a hundred and fifty kilos, not to mention the weapons we found. He's not going to see the light of day until he's old and gray," Jim said. Bill nodded.
"So, Federal drug trafficking charges, possession with intent to sell, resisting arrest, oh, and let's not forget the international charges for smuggling! That's... minimum of sixty years, don't you think?"
"Depends on the judge," Jim replied. "Of course, if someone wanted to cooperate and help us out, maybe we could work some kind of deal...."
"I'm certain that one of the suspects will wish to deal with us, rather than spend the rest of their lives in a United States Federal Prison," Fraser said as he stood. "Perhaps we should try one of the other arrestees?"
There were two possibilities. Two of the drivers decided to cooperate, with the promise of leniency, should their tips pan out. They decided to split up, Turnbull and Vecchio opted to go with Brown, Rafe, Megan, and Joel, to one site, while Jim, Blair, Fraser, Kowalski, Bill and Ralph went to the other. They only planned on scoping out the places, see if anything might be going on. That was all they planned on doing.
Too bad it didn't work the way they planned....
The enemy had them pinned down with heavy-arms fire. They were well and truly trapped, with nowhere to go, no means of escape. Jim had pushed Blair down and was covering him, protecting him with his own body, expecting that at any moment they would be flanked and killed. Ray Kowalski stood quickly and fired off a few rounds, while Fraser knelt beside him. Bill Maxwell crouched beside them, occasionally trying to get a look at what the enemy was doing. It felt like they'd taken on an entire battalion of well-trained army troops. They'd had no idea that half a dozen drug smugglers would have been so well armed... or that the supposed six men would turn out to be more like twenty. They'd called for backup, but it hadn't arrived, yet, and the bad guys had started moving so they had to do something to at least slow them down until help could arrive. Jim had announced their presence by identifying himself, at which point all Hell had broken loose. They had all dived for the only spot of cover, a small, concrete cistern that was barely large enough for the six men to huddle behind.
The sixth member of the group was trying to convince Jim to allow him to break away and attack the enemy. Jim frowned and shook his head. He had a pounding headache from the sound of high-powered weapons firing almost non-stop. He knew what Ralph was saying, but he didn't believe him. For now, at least, they'd wait for backup.
"We're just going to scope out the place where my informant says they're bringing the drugs through, guys. You don't have to come," Jim offered their visiting friends an out. He planned on staking out the warehouse for a few hours, hoping to get some confirmation that there really were drugs being smuggled in from Canada.
"We'd love to go with you, Jim," Ralph Hinkley insisted with a smile. "Bill loves stakeouts, don't you Bill?"
Bill grimaced, then grinned. "Oh, yeah. My number one thing to do," He agreed, then muttered softly under his breath, "on my 'hate to do' list." Jim chuckled and Fraser smiled, understanding exactly what he meant.
Ray grinned and agreed. "Sounds good to me,"
"Likewise," Fraser concurred.
"It's going to be pretty boring, though. I don't expect any action. My snitch said that there is something supposed to come in this weekend, but you know how that goes."
"How good is your snitch?" Ray asked.
Jim shrugged, "About seventy-five percent. Once in a while he gives me some bad intel. Just often enough that I never take him for gospel."
Bill nodded in understanding. Informants often had their own agendas that had little or nothing to do with what information they were selling. Personally, he didn't much care for them; too often they were either trying to distract you from their own crimes and misdemeanors, or simply wanted to cause trouble for someone else. Unfortunately, that didn't mean that they didn't get away with it.
Ray grunted in agreement. Snitches were what they were, some were good, others, not so.
"We'll go with you," Bill announced, much to everyone's surprise.
"Yeah," Ray agreed.
"You really don't have to, you know," Blair insisted.
"Just being buddies," Ray countered.
"Hey, we're friends, this is what friends do. You can always depend on me, and on Ralph. Although, Ralph is more likely to be of more use than me, what with the suit and all."
"Bill, stop that." Ralph frowned. "Don't forget, you're the brains in this partnership."
Bill laughed, "Yeah, but you're the brawn, with a pretty good mix of brains, yourself." Bill patted his partner on the shoulder. "So, we'll take my rental car. It's much less noticeable than your truck."
"That means that Bill will drive," Ralph said, sotto voce.
Blair almost giggled. "How is he for wrecking vehicles?"
"Oh, two or three a year when he was with the bureau," Ralph deadpanned. Jim laughed, while Blair paled.
"Oh, dear," Fraser murmured, while his partner laughed.
"You're kidding?" Please say you're kidding.... Blair cringed slightly.
"Well, when he was driving. That's not counting the number of bad guys he's forced to crash," Ralph added.
"Oh, and how about the ones you've stopped?" Bill countered.
"Only the bad guys' cars got damaged." He tried to keep a straight face, but Ralph was still too happy over the return of his partner/friend. It had been several months since Jim and Blair had found Bill in a cave where he'd been left to die, and he was still thrilled with the way things were going, although he had noticed some changes in the older man. Of course, after sixteen-plus years of torture and imprisonment he should have been more surprised with how well Bill had coped with all the changes in the world, not to mention how little his personality had changed. Bill showed no anger or fear over his ordeal, he was simply happy to be free once more and to know that Ralph had been all right. His dogged determination to stop bad guys hadn't dimmed one single lumen, which was why they had returned to Washington State and offered to help the Cascade PD attempt to slow down or stop the sudden influx of meth coming in from Canada.
They had arrived at the location that Jim's snitch had indicated and scoped out the premises. Jim and Fraser, using their enhanced senses, had realized that there were several people inside, and that they were talking about the shipment they'd just received... had they waited until the time Jim's snitch had said to come, the drugs and the smugglers would have been long gone. Blair had immediately called for backup, but things happened too quickly and in their determination to slow the smugglers in their escape, they'd gotten themselves pinned down, with no means of escape for themselves. All they could do was hope that their backup would arrive soon.
"Jim, it's okay, let me go. I can get through and distract them," Ralph insisted.
"And how do I explain how you get shot and not injured?" Jim replied.
"You don't. The way we always worked it before was that Bill would laugh at the bad guys when they would claim that I'd done something 'impossible'. Heck, sometimes we'd tell the exact truth, that I'm like Superman, but that only got laughed at. Trust me, it's too unbelievable for anyone."
"He's right, Jim. I'd say 'sure, he's Superman,' and everyone would laugh and the bad guys would shut up, realizing that we thought they were working for an insanity plea. There was one guy who insisted, and he ended up in a psych ward," Bill confirmed his partner's claim.
"What if they shoot you in the head?" Blair asked, worriedly.
"I keep my arms up to protect my head. Besides, I can turn invisible, with the cape." Jim and Blair turned blank stares on each other, then met the identical expressions on Ray and Fraser's faces, then back to Ralph, disbelief on all four faces. Sighing, Ralph disappeared. "Satisfied?"
"Uh," Blair began in surprise. Fraser and Ray just gaped.
"Uh," Jim echoed his partner, reaching out to touch the now invisible man. "I guess..." he shook his head, not believing his senses. He could feel Ralph, smell his aftershave, hear his heartbeat, but he couldn't see him. "All right. I can't argue with this one. Go for it." His sensitive hearing let him keep track of their invisible secret weapon, as Jim filtered out the surrounding noise.
It was soon obvious where Ralph was, when smugglers suddenly lost their weapons, which went flying across the open area towards the five pinned down men. As the smugglers not yet under attack turned to see what was wrong, Jim, Blair, Ray, Ben, and Bill made their moves, rushing the distracted bad guys. By the time they realized what was happening, the five had engaged several men in hand-to-hand combat; unless they were willing to kill their comrades, the unengaged smugglers couldn't shoot.
Fortunately, they didn't have to find out whether or not the bad guys were willing to kill their partners as backup finally arrived, swiftly diving in and capturing the twenty-five men and women who had been dividing up their drug shipment.
By the time the agents from the DEA had arrived, the arrestees had been Mirandized and transported to the city jail. Ralph, who hadn't removed his street clothes that covered the suit, reappeared during the confusion of subduing the smugglers. Bill looked at him and immediately pulled off his suit jacket and handed it to Ralph, who frowned in momentary confusion, then looked down and noticed the bullet holes in his own jacket. He quickly stripped off the damaged garment and slipped his partner's on instead, to cover the holes in his shirt. Bill draped the damaged jacket over one arm. Jim and Blair used their bodies to block the change, but not quickly enough for their captain not to see.
Simon stared, his jaw going slack. He could see the bullet holes in the man's shirt, but there wasn't any blood, although red fabric showed through. He stopped beside his men, trying not to be too obvious in his staring. "You all right?" Simon turned his gaze from the obviously uninjured Ralph to his own officers.
"Yeah, we're fine, sir. Seems my snitch was a couple of days off with his timing."
"Oh? When did he say the shipment was coming in?"
"Two days from now," Jim answered blandly. Seeing his superior's frown of confusion, he continued. "We just thought we'd scope the place out, but it turned out that the shipment was today. We called for backup, but before it arrived, they came out and saw us. They started shooting, we dove for cover."
Simon looked around; spotting the only cover in the area, he asked, "Do I want to know how you managed to get to them?"
"Uh, probably not, Simon," Blair replied, while Ben and Ray nodded in agreement.
"Tell me anyway."
"Uh, well, you see, sir," Jim started, but Ralph interrupted him.
"I sort of drew their fire and while they were distracted, Bill, Jim, Blair, Ben, and Ray attacked from the opposite end."
"Uh-huh," Simon replied, disbelievingly. He reached over and pulled the jacket Ralph now wore away to see the holes in his shirt. "So, how'd your clothes get ventilated? More importantly, how did you avoid getting hurt?"
"Uh, well, you see..." Ralph looked around for help.
"If we told you, we'd have to kill you," Bill said, smiling.
Simon glared at them, each in turn. Every one of them returned his glare with their best innocent expression.
"Well, however you did it, it was a good job, men. Now, I suggest you get out of here before anyone else notices that you're wearing each other's jackets. Agent Maxwell's gray does not go well with Mr. Hinkley's tan, and vice versa."
"Yes, sir!" Jim snapped, then grinned. "Well be down at the station working on the paperwork as soon as we drop them off at their motel, Simon."
"Make sure you get their signed statements, gentlemen." Captain Banks, with one final look at Ralph's shirt, shook his head and walked away, muttering under his breath, "Whatever that suit thing is made of, I wish we had some flak vests made from it."
They kept the warehouse staked out for the next week, just to make sure there were no other shipments coming in. With all the paperwork filled out, signed, and filed, Bill and Ralph prepared to return to Los Angeles. Vecchio, Turnbull, Fraser, and Kowalski had already returned to Chicago to use the information they had gleaned from questioning the smugglers in their own takedown attempt of the smuggling ring.
"It's been interesting, gentlemen," Simon Banks said as he shook Bill and Ralph's hands. "You know, for a FED, you're not bad, Maxwell."
Bill grinned. "Yeah, well, thanks to your guys, I found my smile again." He looked at Jim and Blair, "Friends?"
"Forever," Blair agreed, shaking his hand.
"Always," Jim agreed, shaking Ralph's, then Bill's hands.
"If you ever need us, you know that we'll be there if you call us," Ralph said softly.
"Likewise," Jim agreed.
As the two men walked away, Jim heard Bill's soft murmur, "Until forever ends, I will be your friend."
Simon watched the two men as they left. Turning to his friends, he had to ask. "Sandburg? Is Bill Maxwell like Jim and Fraser?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"You heard me. Is he a sentinel, like Jim?"
"Don't be silly, Simon. Of course not."
"He's at least got exceptional hearing. About as good as mine."
"He can see exceptionally well, too," Simon agreed, nodding.
"And his sense of touch is good, too."
"What?" Blair turned from one man to the other, like he was watching a tennis match.
"Yeah, and did you see him flinch at dinner the other night? I swear his sense of taste was giving him trouble," Simon added.
"Yeah, and he was able to keep track of Ralph, even when he was invisible," Jim continued.
"WHAT?!" Blair was shocked. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"I thought you knew," Jim shrugged.
"What?" Blair turned to stare at the elevator doors that were closing on the departing pair, he caught Bill's wink just before the man burst into laughter. "Oh, man..." Blair moaned, as Jim and Simon began to chuckle.
"Well, that proves it," Simon chortled. "Your days as an 'observer' are definitely over. Good thing you're a cop."
"I can't believe this. You both knew and didn't think to tell me? That's so not cool. To quote Ray, 'that's just not buddies', guys." His friends just laughed at him, while Blair began plotting his revenge. Maybe he could get Ralph and Bill to come for another visit? Maybe along with Ben and Ray? They could always go camping.... He decided to make some calls in a few weeks, see if he could get them all together again to runs some tests. This particular get-together hadn't had time for much sensory work, he'd been too caught up in his fascination with Ralph's suit. But next time... and there would be a next time...
He thought of a misquote of Ray Kowalski's, 'Hmmmph! Shake, sentinel, shake!'
I Will Be Your Friend
When every moment gets too hard
The end of the road can feel so far
No matter how much time we'll part
I'm always near you
I'll be the shelter in your rain
Help you find your smile again
I'll make you laugh if you have a broken heart
Wherever you are
Cuz I'm never gonna walk away
If the walls come down some day
All along when you feel the pain
I'll be there when you call my name
You can always depend on me
I believe until forever ends
I will be your friend
So many people come and go
Nothing can change the you I know
You'll never be just a face in the crowd
And time will show
Through the seasons and the years
I will always hold you dear
Never you fear
Cuz I'm never gonna walk away
If the walls come down some day
All along when you feel the pain
I'll be there when you call my name
You can always depend on me
I believe until forever ends
I will be your friend
I'll be around when every candle burns down low
And I want you to know...
Cuz I'm never gonna walk away
If the walls come down some day
All along when you feel the pain
I'll be there when you call my name
You can always depend on me
I believe until forever ends
I will be your friend
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